Paul Sereiko, Director of Marketing, FieldComm Group – Connecting the World of Process Automation – in conversation with Industrial Automation at Automation Expo 2017.
FDI or Field Device Integration
Is the debate still relevant on HART versus FOUNDATION Fieldbus or is there a harmony between the best of both?
The debate is no longer relevant. At the instrument protocol layer there will always be a variety of protocols used. Each protocol offers advantages for specific use cases. At FieldComm Group our goal is to make sure that we offer protocols that are optimised for these use cases. And that we continue to develop these protocols to maintain relevance in the market. Harmonisation really occurs at the integration layer, and for that we offer Field Device Integration or FDI technology.
What are the relative advantages still enjoyed by the HART protocol?
The HART protocol’s major advantage is that it can be used anywhere there is a 4-20mA twisted pair current loop. By using the 4-20mA physical layer end users are assured that PV will always be available – digitally via HART, or analog over 4-20mA. The vast majority of brownfield process facilities have 4-20mA installed and even in greenfield projects it is still a widely used physical layer. HART can also run on many physical layers beyond 4-20 including HART-IP and WirelessHART which provides many options to move digital data across the enterprise. Given the critical mass of HART in process industries today applications to capture and utilise this information will continue to evolve and HART will remain a relevant technology in the IoT era for years to come.
Are we prepared for a totally wireless automation environment?
Users all tell us one governing principle that we can rely on to predict the future… that regardless of evolution of future technologies, they will not be taking field devices out of their plants! This will translate to a future with the co-existence of many technologies within a plant integrated at the system and cloud level. Given the ease of addition of WirelessHART we certainly expect it to flourish in the IIoT era and complement existing device protocols with a growing percentage of instrumentation composition in the plant of the future.
With the advent Industry 4.0 or IIoT, is the multiplicity of platforms and protocols a serious problem or are solutions emerging to address these?
FDI technology is a great solution for IIoT and Industry 4.0. FDI is not a protocol, it is an integration technology. FDI has been designed to abstract information from any instrument protocol into a common OPC-UA based information model for dissemination to higher level local or cloud based platforms. FDI not only supports FieldComm Group protocols HART, WirelessHART and FF, but also Profibus, Profinet and ISA 100.11a. Through standalone communication servers additional protocols like ModBus and EtherNet/IP are also integrated with FDI.
What is the engagement of FieldComm with the Indian automation industry? What are the barriers to negotiate?
FieldComm Group is a member organisation with nearly 350 members globally. In addition to local Indian companies, all of the major suppliers have development and sales facilities in India. Our protocols are used widely within the Indian end user community and some of the more sophisticated implementations of FieldComm group protocols are deployed by many top Indian companies. Our main challenge is to continually conduct technology awareness and education programs that promote the features of the protocols or FDI technology. To achieve this we are working with local representatives of our member companies to form the FieldComm Group India Society and associated end user organisation. These will work together to plan and execute programs in the Indian market.
With the proliferation of devices and the data thus generated, is it getting difficult to manage the data more effectively?
Yes and No. As digitalisation adoption grows there is quite a bit more data created. Thus, more sophisticated strategies are needed to manage data, determine what is relevant, and assure that relevant data is made available to the appropriate system(s). Fortunately software architectures and tools are continually evolving to simplify the task of implementing data management strategies. As an example, FDI is built on an OPC-UA information model that was jointly developed by FieldComm Group and the OPC Foundation. The information model seamlessly integrates with other elements of OPC-UA to enable further integration with platforms like the Microsoft Azure IoT hub.
With cyber security emerging as a serious threat, how are organisations such as FieldComm addressing the concerns?
We take cyber-security very seriously. Our technologies are all informed by the IEC 62443 series of security standards. We have an active cyber-security member volunteer working group tasked with reviewing FieldComm Group standards for security. WirelessHART was designed from the ground up for security and all packets transmitted through a WirelessHART network are encrypted with AES 128 encryption. Finally, FDI Device packages are signed and verified prior to being imported into FDI hosts while advanced FDI user interface programs are required to execute in a secure sandbox.
Is there something called too much automation? Is the human element still relevant?
The human element is incredibly important. Advanced automation and digitalisation simply provide more information that helps build decision support systems. People need to figure out how to use that information. In many of our presentations we depict IIoT as a pyramid. At the lowest layer of the pyramid are instruments and “things”. But the highest level is the human and external interface. Soon and as more learning progresses more and more decisions will be automated however we will never lose the accountability and wisdom of a human. From an employment perspective digitalisation offers opportunities at all levels of the IIoT pyramid.
What were the takeaways about the Indian market during Automation Expo 2017?
I learned a few things. Automation Expo 2017 is one of the best shows I’ve attended in many years. The programs were great, the exhibitors were all relevant to the Automation Industry, and the audience was significant. Attendees were very knowledgeable about automation and FieldComm Group products, but were also anxious to learn more and help us improve. As an exhibitor this was very gratifying.
Finally the inevitable – is automation a threat to employment?
Well, this question has been answered in the previous one above!
(The major automation foundations, including the FDT Group, PROFIBUS & PROFINET International, and OPC Foundation have developed a single common solution for FDI or Field Device Integration)
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